The affects of autism on learning are numerous and normally manifest by impairing language and social interactions, along with causing repetitive behavior and limited interests. In most cases autistic children possess the ability to learn but do not normally perform well in typical classrooms. The education of most autistic children requires specialized programs tailored specifically for the individual student. Categorized as a developmental neural disorder, autism affects the way the brain stores and organizes information. Little is understood about this process or its cause.
Children without autism learn from their environment without intervention. This typically involves learning language and social behaviors. Those who suffer from autism learn very little from their surroundings. They normally do not develop social skills and isolate themselves from others. Learning typically requires a highly-structured environment with specific one-on-one instruction.
The effects of autism on learning often involve an autistic child's impaired ability to communicate. Whether due to a lack of language skills or the inability to engage in appropriate social behavior, the inability to communicate with "normal" children often results in an autistic child's lack of interest in their surroundings. This behavior can contribute to a failure to learn through imitation, which is how most children begin the learning process. Oftentimes, the effect of autism on learning requires more of a cause and effect teaching strategy rather than imitation. For example, a child without autism may be able to mimic his parent's words "orange" when mom holds up an orange and make a connection between the two, whereas an autistic child may need to actually touch the orange to make the connection.
Sometimes the learning environment may contribute to the effects of autism on learning as well. Many autistic children can be overwhelmed by loud classrooms with bright, colorful decor. This is sometimes referred to as "sensory overload." The surroundings may be so distracting for an autistic child that he is unable to process any further information.
Every autistic child's barriers to learning may be different, making it difficult to develop programs that will work for everyone. To counter the effects of autism on learning, parents and teachers work to develop customized strategies and instructional programs based on the child’s specific needs and abilities. Working to design a learning environment directed toward these individual needs can further improve a child’s chances to learn and become independent. Research has shown that early intervention and working to develop learning skills at the youngest age possible can help curb the effects of autism on learning.
Teachers use a variety of techniques in order to effectively lessen the effect of autism on learning. It is common for an autistic child to lack the ability to process information from multiple senses. A teacher may separate their methods of instruction, using visual aids and then offering auditory instruction in a lecture. New studies also are indicating that inclusion programs may be effective as well. These programs set up regular classrooms to accommodate autistic students in the same classes as "regular" students. This is proving to be very helpful in making autistic children feel accepted and part of the group, which is proving to go a long way toward improving the effects of autism on learning.